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Oliver Lodge
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Art by John Lunar Richey 2016

PROWLER

Oliver Lodge

 

     Why can’t I see you?

     I wanted to speak to you. I went to your house again – that enormous piece of property that sits on the field overlooking the hills. I don’t know how I did it, but I climbed on top of the roof where the kitchen on the first floor juts out. By chance, I had caught you at the window. You were not happy to see me. You told me you would meet me at the entrance to the house but you never came. Then the gray twilight of spring faded and I drove home surrounded by the darkness of night.

     You used to be different. I was cruel to you but you allowed me to be. You understood how I needed to act that way… to someone. You couldn’t stand the idea of someone else getting the same attention from me so you let me abuse you. You even let me shave your head and carve the basic features of your face into the back of it. This was done as a precaution. If you happened to turn to face away from me while we slept together, I could be assured that you had not deserted me. I’m so needy. But that’s why you’re with me, right? I’m always pushing you to see how far you’ll go, aren’t I? Testing your boundaries, making you plead for mercy, dragging you to the very brink of death. One of these days I’m going to break your neck. You know I have killed numerous other women before you. I have convinced you that you are special but how do you know I’m not lying? I smash your head against the wall in an attempt to shatter your skull. You almost die but I fail to completely break you. Your suffering is apparent but your beauty endures. The more I come down on you with my fists, the more radiantly you glow. You are a tiny doll in the background of my blackened life. I bite and spit and kick and scream to get close to you again. You tell me to stop but take no action to prevent me from calmly sliding my hand into your mouth. I challenge you. “Bite me,” I whisper into your ear. But you’re as docile as a lamb. It annoys me. You would fight back if you wanted to get rid of me. But you never do anything. It disgusts me. The pain I inflict ricochets off of you and slams into me. Defeated, I keel over. You are far away from me again, shining majestically in the distance like a religious figure bathed in fractured rainbows of light. I love you. You let me do whatever I want. I hold you by the hair and shove my fist down your throat as hard as I can. You choke and drop to your knees. Tears run down your cheeks. You wonder how you allowed yourself to come to be in such a vulnerable position. I want to kill you. I lean all of my weight into your body. My entire arm disappears inside of you, through your mouth and down into the recesses of your body. I swing you around the room using your body as a device to smash everything that belongs to you.

     The people you live with used to let me into the house without an argument. I would then proceed to break everything in sight. They never tried to fight me off or call the police. The whole scenario would unfold as if it were preordained… like these episodes were already set in place according to the dictates of fate… like all of your roommates had chipped in for a pizza that night and I was the delivery boy, and they were just waiting for me to finish with my so-called performance before leaving the pie on the table, picking up my money, and making for the door. All of them would watch us from the top of the stairs as I had my way with you.

     Now they greet me with a frown. They tell me you are not there and I am forced to believe them.

     There are more and more people in your life now. I can’t stand it. Everyone around you is so busy. They buzz around you all day with their busy lives, weaving a shield of constant activity around you. The other day, you referred to them as your “family”. That’s so stupid. You don’t even know them. But now your home is suddenly filled with these sentimental do-gooders. I know you are inside that house, embedded in its center like a pearl nesting snugly inside a clam. I need to see you. But I can never get past them. And your guardians have made it all too clear that I am not a welcome member of this new-found “family”.

     Tell them that I am never going to go away. Let them know that I am watching them. I spied on one of your roommates while she was taking a bath. I also watched that jerk you live with while he was ironing his clothes for work. Make allusions as to how difficult I can make all of their lives but do not describe any of my previous crimes to them.

     For obvious reasons, it was established that my prior victims would never be a topic of discussion between us. But I miss you so much and cannot help but refer to that one murder that destroyed us. As you know, there were many girls before her, but her death affected you quite differently than the others. Was it because she was just a child? Do you still doubt she died a virgin? You looked at me and told me that you had never seen anyone as beautiful as that dead girl I showed you in autumn. I did not attempt to hide the fact that I was guilty of having killed her. Do you remember? I was honest to you about everything that happened… forthcoming when it came to every detail. Her eyes had already rotted out of their sockets when I brought you to her – lying in a pile of leaves in that abandoned shack, her mouth agape in disbelief. How could you forget? (Though you seem like the type of person who could make herself forget. That is why I don’t think you will ever give me up.) She is only a few feet from the house where you live but you are still denying that anything ever happened. After all, she was only an ideal, an invention of my own selfish imagination, an image you could never live up to. I killed her because I had something to prove. But I don’t want to prove myself to you or anyone else any longer.

     I just want you to let me in.

 

-November, 2013





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Art by John Lunar Richey 2016

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Art by Mike Kerins 2016

The Spider

by Oliver Lodge

 

Weighed down by a tangle of chains, I am dragged before the court to face my punishment.

The eight-year-old judge’s face is a scrunched-up apricot with freckles. Dried snot has caked up her nostrils and orange dust from a freshly eaten bag of Cheese Doodles is smeared around her lips. Her ponytails are bound by enormous bows the tincture of moldy eggs. Unceremoniously giggling at inappropriate times, the jury consists of pre-pubescent girls dressed like the protagonist from Lewis Carroll’s famous novel.

When asked to identify the perpetrator, Little Miss Muffet points to me, standing in the center of the courtroom. I return her gaze, which is somehow both soft and harsh, and cannot resist lubricating the mandibles around my mouth. Everyone reacts to this with grimaces of disgust.

The judge addresses me: “You’re an ugly, hairy, stinky spider and you SHOULD NOT be within the radius of a hundred miles of ANY pretty, little girl! The only reason you’re close to us now is because you’re in big trouble, mister! What do you have to say for yourself, Poopypants?”

“I just asked her about Oscar Wilde. You see, I’m a big fan of that type of literature and the school assigned The Portrait of . . .

“Silence! Stupid spider! You wanted to bite her. Your defensiveness proves that you are guilty!”

“But Miss Muffet is a thousand times bigger than I am,” I protested.

“Not anymore. I see that you have grown to OUR height. I understand that you have refused to take your medicine since you have been incarcerated.”

“You’ve been forcing me to drink those horrible potions ever since I was a spiderling. I know that I grow bigger if I don’t take them, but they make me feel so sick. I’d rather die than drink that shit.”

“How dare you say a bad word around us little girls, you weirdo pervert!”

With an infuriated lisp, the judge announces my sentence and I am flogged to death by an eager parade of guards with candy canes as thick as nightsticks and rainbow lollipops resembling circular saws on sticks. A riot of knee-high socks cradled in black knickers kicks me in the eyes. They pop like blown fuses, one after the other, until I am rendered dead.

News of my protest travels far and wide to the other spiders on the outskirts of town, precipitating a rebellion against this evil regime of spoiled brats.

Prescriptions for spider potions are left unfilled and my fellow arachnids soon grow to their original sizes, enabling them to defeat the little girls with relative ease.

 


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Art by Anne Marie Rhiel 2016

The Graylag Goose

 

Oliver Lodge

 

 

     I don’t know what happened to Beatrice, where she had gone. She had been in the sky beside me, forming the right tailpiece to the “V” of the flock. Then suddenly she vanished. She was at my side. I was responsible for her. Regret overcame me. I had not assumed the outside position which would have made her feel safer within the formation. I would have taken a lower rank in the pecking order to keep a better eye on her, though it would have been considered strange, even an outright disruption, by the rest of the flock.

     Not that her flying was inadequate. Her wings were quite strong and she had considerable precision in her movements. But her neck was slightly more slender than mine. And though she never once lagged behind the flock or complained about the bitterness of the wind, I suspect she might have grown weaker if we were forced to travel a longer distance than absolutely necessary. Had I seen her falter, I could have let out a cry. She would know I was close behind her watching while keeping our flight moving at a proficient pace. My presence itself could have kept her afloat in the air for an extended period of time, an extension of days and nights.

     My love for her distorts the fact that she knew where she was going and how to take care of herself. We all did. But I like to think that I offered just a tiny bit more to her than my being just a single piece to a puzzle in the whole of this regimented life of ours. At the same time, that was the beauty of our relationship. It was bound together by our perfect connection to the others. This connection allowed me to think more of her. Only by seeing how Beatrice appreciated this harmony could I flirt with even the slightest understanding of it. I could not tell how the other geese felt. Nor did I care beyond my calling to preserve our way of life. Feelings that transcended my immediate survival needs seemed to spring only from my attachment to Beatrice. I suspect this was true with regard to all of us and our mates. The males sometimes fought, so surely there was something one of them felt important enough to guard. Thinking of them and myself as comprising a unit, I knew these spats were necessary for maintaining a definable order in the hierarchy, but I felt no personal connection to it. The only being I felt a personal connection to was Beatrice. Through her, I understood myself in relation to the flock. But, without the flock, Beatrice and I would be unable to survive. The flock was the very framework in which these feelings could thrive. My entire life and how I viewed it rested upon this dynamic.

     I never felt as if I was treated unfairly by the flock. Wait. Let me correct myself. There were moments in childhood when I felt singled out from my brothers and sisters for punishment, but that held as much authority as a drop of rain to a lake. For I was always assured it was for the good of the rest and that was sensible enough of an explanation to me. This was the foundation of my reasoning. Not until this foundation was disrupted did I come to the realization of how firmly implanted it actually was. On this day I came to consider myself an initiate of adulthood.

 

     A shimmer of green and yellow spanned the marshlands. The light of mid-morning danced about the edges of every blade of grass, jumping from the tips of cattails and sliding in between every crevice in the shrubbery’s patchwork. In tag team fashion, slivers of sunlight would give up their expedition across the pond, slipping back underwater to let a new family of ripples emerge. Their performance was lax today as the winds had died down for a change. But in spite of its relative stillness, a whirl of activity was in the air. Bumblebees rushed to suckle every flower they could find; gnats bounced off one another to lick the film of algae covering the pond, disappearing and reappearing seconds later to repeat the ritual; and the flap of fishes’ tails sent up occasional burbles to the water’s surface.  With the help of the sun, the grass took on a vibrant glow of green. The neck of many a reed curled upward to fawn over its master in an expression of the triumph of life. Spring was administering the happy work it had in supply and its devotees were gratefully obliging.

     Something was astir amidst my peers. I knew because I felt it too. A feeling of enormous strength emanating from my lower body circulated through my legs. Though I knew they were moving by the pulses of pressure below me, my legs paddled me about the pond without the slightest effort on my part. I glided through the water at a quick and gallant pace. I wouldn’t describe this newborn energy as entirely jubilant. There was an underlying agitation driving the whole process. This was manifest in the other males. They circled the marsh as if in search of someone to blame for their impatience. I caught sight of Beatrice in the near distance. I looked at her as I will never look at another. Nothing could have stopped me from moving toward her. She was in my sight and was not about to leave it. Two geese surrounded her. There had been three, but the smallest of them had been chased away by Beatrice’s squawks. Her neck was bowed low, stretched out close to the surface of the water. You could see every cry traversing through her neck before its ear-splitting release. To beat away the remainders of the prowling circle, she splashed her mighty wings against the water. Breaking away from her, the white surf was a force field of thorny projectiles. I cut into her at an angle. She threw me off of her. To my right, another male nipped at me with his beak. It didn’t take long for me to get him to back away and clear the area for our courtship.

     Then, what surprised me was the provocation I had received from one of my more persistent adversaries. Having gone through all the appropriate channels expected to attain Beatrice as a mate, the ritual had already come to a close and was understood by the group as consummated. But for some strange reason, this goose felt it necessary to bear his chest and spread his wings before me. Truly, I felt this member completely out of line, transgressing the common ground our flock treaded in defiance of its credibility. None of the others came to my aid to assure me that he had broken the rules. At this moment, I questioned the order I belonged to and whether it was as foolproof as I had been relying on it to be. If there was a crack in the solidarity of the flock, would the others be so cruel as to let me slip through it to face the dangers of the world, of which I’d surely fall victim?

     Not without a frightening hiss did the goose before me fold his head back in against his chest and close his wings. He sauntered away with an expression revealing he was little more than peeved. The offense occurred just as suddenly as he had relented. But it had a significant impact on how I came to see the flock. Of course, I was still wholeheartedly prepared to sacrifice anything and everything for them. But a newfound sense of fear had now been added to my worries – the fear of their betrayal.

 

But it was I who broke away from the flock. I alerted them of Beatrice’s disappearance with a series of cries. They returned these cries with, “We know. But we must go on.” Dusk was descending and we had to push forward to a haven of safety. Pulling away from them was a gut-wrenching task. It went against the grain of all that I believed in. The flock had kept me alive since conception and now I was choosing what could very well kill me. I was following a path leading directly to death. Turning back would be a sticky option once the sun went down. I would never have slowed my pace to turn around and begin my search had the pulling of my breast not been so strong to find my lost love.

     Like a vulture atop a spiral of air fading upward, I lingered there for a moment. I was high above in that gray wash of a sky alone. It was a strain to shift my attention away from the shrinking shadow-cleft of my fellows. My heart beat ever so rapidly as I searched the countryside. Activated by every muscle and fiber thirsting to live, my vision grew exceptionally acute. I honed in on every bird I saw. There were the fluttering loops of the sparrow, and there was the watchful trail of the hawk, but none of the flying patterns matched those of my beloved.

     The first snow had already fallen. It groped and smothered the sienna fields, dry as the shed skin of a corn snake. In judgment of their indifference to their vitiation, the stalks that were not broken and bowed pointed to the marbleized cliffs of slate overlooking the valley. The giant forest climbed out from the swamp, dragging its darkness with it to quell the sighs of the underbrush in protest to the terrible cold and lack of light. Majestically, the trees stood as if frozen in time, frozen in growth. A finale to this earth’s revolution, their bare branches cracked across the colorless sky. The firs kept vigil in foreboding silence. From the tips of every crown their entire brood stretched out before them. But this failed to inspire them. They lacked the life to care. Digging into their crumbling posts, their olive bottoms roosted customarily atop the pale-mauve ground.

     The sun was almost completely out of sight and not a trace could be found of my beloved. I began to panic. Could it be she had lost track of the flock but managed to catch up with them after all? Perhaps she is with them now. Would she come looking for me? Not only might my rashness have caused unnecessary worry to the flock, but both our lives could now be jeopardized. Coupled with this possibility, the grief I now suffered over the separation of my beautiful Beatrice - who had supplied meaning to my meager existence - and the flock that had breathed sustenance into me became a load too cumbersome for my frail soul to bear. It was a paralyzing sorrow. The trial of the minnow had been assigned to me and, caught in a deluge of insurmountable resistance, I failed to make it upstream. Within me, gravity had fallen back into itself, pulling me closer to the earth. My cries for Beatrice grew even shriller, echoing across the marshlands. They were cut short by the branches of a tree, its skeletal fingers having reached out to pierce my breast. From where I left a sprinkle of feathers to whisper their way to the ground, I hightailed it to a clearing in the swamp. Rather than distract me from my search, my wings carried me to a place that I did not recognize as familiar until my feet made contact with its icy waters. Coming forth in uncontrollable heaves of distress, my hearing became saturated with my own cries. At first I thought them impossible to be my own; their pitch took on a tone of such desperation. But then I began to feel the sobs squeezing through the coarse rope of my throat. My wings were now thrashing against the waters where Beatrice and I had initially become entwined and were to never part thereafter. Unlike that miraculous day, as generous with its warmth as the eggs that were to hold our young, the slow freeze of the pond crept inside me, coagulating my blood into slush. Instead of my claiming Beatrice on that effervescent spring day, the cold night had now been elected to claim me. The globe’s hot bird-of-paradise, eclipsed by hills of onyx, had now been crushed by a starless slab of stone. I had been warned of the monsters that took shape after nightfall and it occurred to me that my outbursts would attract their attention. My fears were confirmed. I could see them rolling in from the forest. They had combined forces to take the form of a slow-motion flood of black matter. Anarchic feelers spilled out from this mass in globules – some were ingested back into its core to prevent them from breaking away. Their hushed moans became louder as they moved in to envelope me like a cloud of smoke from across the pond.  

 

 


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Art by Noelle Richardson 2017

Everywhere He Sees Her

 

Oliver Lodge

 

“So purposeful is the ovum in its quest that it figuratively contorts and drives the mind of humanity in ways we have barely begun to understand. With disguises and subterfuges to entrap and allure, the little seductress makes the goal so desirable that it sometimes seems beyond attainment, and therefore more to be pursued.” –Sherwin B. Nuland

 

 She’s been seen by some of his friends. He knows this because they share the same social circle. Though they are sure to keep this hidden from him whenever they talk, he knows that she’s around. He tries not to bring her up. He knows that everyone is sick of hearing about her – so much so that the very mention of her has come to make them feel uneasy. They try to talk some sense into him. They tell him to forget about her and move on. Some of his friends have even resorted to insulting her, citing her reputation for promiscuity. Others tell him that his obsession with her is flat out creepy. They accuse him of stalking her. This hurts his feelings. He becomes defensive and shuts down emotionally. A few alliances are permanently ruptured over this very issue. He does everything in his power to resist mentioning her name to the remainder of his friends even though it is always on the tip of his tongue, but time and time again he hears himself asking about her the moment the opportunity presents itself. The inquiry inevitably creates an awkward rift in the conversation, obliging his confidant to change the subject and move on to something else. The more he brings her up, the more distant his friends become. Soon they start avoiding him altogether.

     Still, he can’t stop thinking about her. He sees her wherever he goes.

     He takes the long way home and drives through town hoping he might see her. What would he do if he saw her? Nothing, he supposes. That’s the way she wants it. She has made that clear. But a longing draws him in search of her nonetheless. A strong pull from the center of his cramped stomach compels him to turn the corner and drive through a busier section of the city in hopes of finding her. He imagines seeing her legs amidst the bustle of lunchtime traffic – the crisp, clean cotton of her slacks peering through a temporary aperture which has formed amidst the swish of shirts and bending legs of the weekday rush. In rhythm to the sway of a merciful breeze on a hot day, perhaps he would see a strand of her hair hover out of place as she nimbly makes her way to her destination, the waves of the lock tracing the aura of her movements like an artist’s sketch. If only for an instant, the curves of her body and the sharp contours of her physiognomy would caress this vision behind a comforting veil of the softest rapture…

     A car pulls up beside him at a stop light. He sees a woman behind the wheel. She is talking and laughing with a friend sitting in the passenger seat – the likes of whom he is unable to discern. The woman’s hair and the curve of her slim nose are lit up by the setting sun. She is happy. She feels contained and confident with whomever she is with. At first he thinks it is her. Her eyes and the length of her hair are similar. Within a second he can tell it’s someone else. But wishful thinking keeps him looking out of the corner of his eye for an extra second as the light changes and they pull away from one another, never to be in such close proximity again.

     ‘How many of her could there possibly be?’ he asks himself. ‘Over there she is walking into a store. Somewhere else she is getting off a bus. She can be seen on a treadmill through the window of a gym down the street. At yet another location she is chaperoning a field trip for an elementary school. So what is it then? Are there a million of her or is there just one?’

     He knows the answer. He just has to remind himself that there’s only one of her. She could never be duplicated. These doppelgangers are just a cruel invention of his mind attempting to recreate the splendor of her image.

     The search is over for the day. Not surprisingly, she is nowhere to be found. He feels silly for having taken the unnecessary detour as he travels the last few blocks home. He tries to imagine her body as repulsive just to get her out of his mind. He knows it is ridiculous to associate her with all that is clean and honest because no such girl exists. Certainly not her. He would not be struggling like this if she were pure. The pain of his loneliness is an exposed nerve pleading for ablation. It’s an open sore that refuses to heal. He spends all night in his apartment trying to get her out of his head, but he can’t. After two years of sobriety, he is no longer able to maintain his resolve. He purchases a bottle of scotch and a six-pack of beer to chase it down. He chooses to drink alone in his apartment rather than be seen in all his shame and sadness at a bar. He wants to be alone with his thoughts as he drinks his woes away. The alcohol dulls the pain but fails to erase the problems that continue to gnaw away at his conscience. He goes to bed feeling sick and worthless. 

 

     She comes to him in his sleep, taking a seat beside him on a stone bench in a garden at a quaint, secluded location. A rush of relief pours through him when she places a concerned hand on his knee.

     “You need to get over this fixation you have with me,” she says sympathetically. “It’s unhealthy and it’s ruining your life. Your friends are right. You need to focus on staying sober, earning a living, and being a responsible father to your son.”

     His head falls into his hands with the weight of the worst despair. His guilt torments him to such a degree that it threatens to drive him into a state of total disrepair.

     “I’m so sorry,” he cries. “I locked you inside my heart and threw away the key.”

     “No need to be sorry,” she tells him. “You did nothing wrong. I’m flattered, in fact.” She puts her arm over his shoulder comfortingly and let’s slip a giggle of modesty when she says, “You give me far too much credit with all of this admiration. How could I ever live up to all these ideas you have about me? You’re only imprisoning yourself by thinking this way. You know that, don’t you? I’ll just be doing what I would normally do in this lifetime regardless of these grandiose fantasies of yours. I cannot give to you what you want from me. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t. You are looking for something from me which I don’t have to give. If anything you should let go of me for the sake of your own freedom.”

     Sheepishly, he looks up at her and says, “I just thought that if perhaps I could see you…”

     “And how would seeing me help the matter?”

     “I think it would resolve the issue.”

     “The majority of problems in the world go unresolved,” she says. “Ties stay broken and, more often than not, love is unrequited. The wind does not carry every seed to fertile soil and many flowers go unpollinated every season. But that is no need to start a war within yourself, a war you wind up waging against others when they are unable to see things your way. Your self-worth does not depend on my attainment. You have been in serious relationships that have not gone your way before and you have possessed the integrity to move on with your life. To be human is to yearn. And yearn you must. But yearn for the sake of yourself and you will know happiness and freedom that is yours alone. Considering all that you have been through, it will be easy to let me go. And that is what you need to do. Let me go!”

 

    He wakes up from this dream with a refreshed sense of resolve. It takes him a few days to recuperate from the binge but his perseverance pays off. He reconnects with friends and takes a long overdue trip to see his father and stepmom in Georgia. They are overjoyed to receive him. They help him catch up on his bills and get back on his feet during the week he stays with them. While walking on the boardwalk with his stepmother one day he thinks he sees the object of his affection jogging towards them and his heart freezes. Instead of putting himself down, he is able to laugh at himself when he soon realizes it is someone else. His son comes down for the second half of the visit. He is awestruck over how charming and intelligent his little boy has become at such a young age. The long talks he has with him during their reunion breathe new hope into his soul.

     But when his son is returned to the care of his mother and he goes back to his hometown, he becomes preoccupied with the young woman again. One day he sees a group of her friends, but she is not with them. He finds himself looking for her on line at the racetrack and down the empty aisles of the supermarket. Of course, it’s to no avail. A quiver runs down his tummy when he goes into a bank to cash a check and notices that four of the tellers are brunettes – they have the same shade of hair as the woman he can’t bring himself to forget. The patter of his heart slows down as he observes that one lady’s hair is too straight, the other one is too portly, the other two are nothing compared to her...

     ‘How can someone be everywhere and nowhere at the same time?’ he asks himself dejectedly while leaving the bank.

     He runs into an old friend who is also having a bad day. They go back to his apartment and share a fifth of gin. His friend’s neighbor drops by. He has scored some crack. The three of them divvy it up and smoke it. They pool their money together and buy more after it’s finished. By three in the morning there are four men and one woman squeezed inside the studio apartment. A bare lightbulb in the center of the ceiling lights up the scene. The walls are stained with nicotine and smudges of old spaghetti sauce. The frame of the doorway to the tiny kitchen is blotted with gray-brown fingerprints. They take turns smoking crack and having sex with the woman throughout the night. Only one of the men is prudent enough to wear a condom. He is not that one. 

     By morning he has gone through all the money his father and stepmom have given him. He is dehydrated. He has a headache. A tart taste will not leave his mouth and the rheum of yesterday’s sweat covers his skin. He lies down and tries to rest even though his entire body is trembling. His heart is beating frantically and he is unable to lay in one place, let alone sleep. He scrapes up enough change to buy a few bottles of malt liquor. He draws the blinds and drinks non-stop throughout the day. The alcohol fails to assuage his anxiety. Fearing he will go insane if he does not have a stroke first, he calls 9-1-1. The rescue squad comes and he is admitted to a hospital. There he is kept under observation. He must be sedated to keep from hyperventilating as he sweats out the toxins in his body. Throughout this ordeal, he remembers that he has not called his son since his arrival back in New York. He chastises himself for this.

     After a nurse gets his vitals, another woman enters his room. It is her! She’s wearing glasses and has gained some weight but still retains that distinct glow. He recognizes her by the equidistances between her temples and her twinkling eyes, forming that sumptuous harmony which had originally drawn him to her. Mechanically, she introduces herself as an intern for the hospital. She does not recognize him. He is malnourished and has grown a beard. He becomes self-conscious when he sees that it is her. He pulls his blanket up over himself tighter to cover his hairy belly and his bony arms. She concentrates on reading the questions to him on the clipboard she holds in her lap. He answers her in monosyllables, hoping his voice will not sound familiar to her. He notices a wedding ring on her finger. ‘She got married?’ he thinks. ‘I wonder who her husband is. I bet she is a wonderful wife.’ She acquires the information she needs within minutes before leaving. The traffic of staff members coming in and out of the room to attend to him divert him from thinking about who he has just seen. The drugs he has been given at the hospital have calmed his nerves and he is able to convince the personnel to release him.

     His unemployment check is waiting for him when he gets home. He plucks it out of the clutter of other letters in his mailbox and cashes it. He picks up a bottle of cheap liquor on his way to where his friend’s neighbor lives. The woman from his dreams no longer occupies his thoughts. All he can think about is getting a few hits of crack. All he needs to do now is get high.

 

 

 

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Art by Noelle Richardson 2017

The Bull

Oliver Lodge

(for Severin)

 

I was horsing around, teasing my little sister in our room at bedtime one night. She cried out for our mother but our father came to the door instead.

     "Sator is bothering me!" she whined and pointed at me.

     "If you don't leave your sister alone, the bull will get you," he warned me with a knowing smile.

     That was all he needed to say to get me under the covers and facing the wall away from her, still as a board, without a peep for the rest of the evening.

     The bull was one of my earliest memories from childhood. A friend had given the animal to my father as a favor for helping him move. He kept the bull chained up in the basement beneath our family's modest home in Samarkand with the intention of fattening him up for a feast.

     Though I had never actually seen the bull, the ominous impression my dad managed to instill in me kept me awake for hours that night before I finally fell asleep, but not before my five-year-old mind had been thoroughly accosted by the image of a terrifying beast standing over me, its red eyes gleaming with hatred for the whole of mankind, which had laid the yoke of its avarice upon him and his brethren for as long as hooves and human feet had trod the same soil beside one another, his glowering nostrils exhaling blasts of hot smoke as he focused his wrath in my immediate direction, sizing up my tiny frame within the range of his massive horns, his taut, ebony muscles, as sleek and firm as oversized tires at a monster truck show, bursting proudly from his neck and shoulders in the fashion of a gun that is cocked and ready to fire. I could not get the eyes of the bull out of my head. Those eyes, burning like embers from out of the coal mines of hell, which lurked in the darkness of the basement below me, hypnotically wavering in the dusty air like the headlights of a hearse leaving the scene of a murder.

     I think my father could sense my fear of the bull while we passed by the steps leading to the basement of our flat the next morning. He engaged in a little horseplay of his own. “Is that the bull I hear, Sator?” he teased. “I can hear his hooves stomping on the ground down there. I think he’s angry at you for being a bad little boy.”

     These words sent me running into the courtyard, kicking up sand behind me as my father laughed in the background. Throughout that sweltering summer in Uzbekistan he used the bull to coax me into doing whatever he wanted. Much to my chagrin, it became a continuous source of amusement for him.

xxx

     It was late August when he asked me to feed the bull one day. His cheeks and forehead stained with motor oil from working on the car, he had been underneath the stubborn machine for the majority of the afternoon and was in an especially sour mood. At first I thought he was kidding. I pivoted back around to where he lay and was about to talk my way out of the errand until he shot me a look that told me he meant business and not to test his patience. 

     I worked especially slow in gathering up the hay, silage, and a bucket of water to bring to the bull, hoping that perhaps the sudden arrival of my grandmother or a similar twist of fate would relinquish me from the responsibility of feeding the dreaded monster lurking below our home in wait for a dumb little boy like me to stumble into his midst. Reluctantly, I emerged from the garage and onto the sandy road outside where the sun beat down on my bony arms. I crept my way over to the first step leading down into the bull’s abysmal lair, the pistons in my stomach pumping out steady streams of acid in nervous anticipation of my final meeting with the beast. I frantically rifled through a list of every possible excuse I could imagine which might enable me to abort this mission and cursed my father for his cruelty while descending each stair, one by one, until I came to the doorway of the basement. With the chipped remnants of a faded coat of red paint, the door laid hanging to the side by one hinge – a dilapidated usher to the uncomely dwelling. Twenty feet away from me hovered a pair of eyes, but they were not red like I had imagined. They were a milky jade, soft but cautious. As my eyesight adjusted to the lack of light, I assessed that the animal was far slighter than I had imagined. The bull’s head was bowed, but in subordination, not as if to pounce. I made out the chains around his neck and legs thanks to the sliver of sun that the disheveled entrance had permitted. This, in addition to the gentle expression on the bovine’s face, gave me the courage to approach my family’s four-legged prisoner.

     When I came to stand beside the bull, I was struck by the contrast he embodied in reality versus the frightful character I had dreamed up. His shoulders resembled the peaks of two rickety tents emerging from behind his sunken neck and the horns on his brooding head acted as a symbol of mockery, serving the same function as would a dunce cap on a child assigned to the corner of a classroom. The lower lids of his cataract-infused eyes drooped down over his cheeks to reveal webs of pink and white flesh brimming over with silver tears, the gleaming linings of which reflected eternal pastures of deathly calm - a place looming somewhere on the horizon between his mother's womb and the butcher's bloody saw. On impulse, I scooped up a handful of his feed and held it under his muzzle. He wagged his tail and closed his eyes momentarily as he gently ate from my hand as if trying to savor what little flavor the rotting corn might have retained, the mild stimulation of his palette possibly one of the only comforts granted to him in the drudgery of his everyday existence. At that moment, just outside the cellar, I heard the neighbor predictably reciting his afternoon prayers from the roof of his one-story house.

     “I’m sorry,” I said to the bull. “I am so, so sorry.”

 

Oliver Lodge – August 30, 2016


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Art by Daniel Valentin 2017

The Journey

 

by Oliver Lodge

 

     He was drinking and still going to AA. He would tell everyone that he was sober, but you could smell the booze on him from a mile away. He always came in late. I remember him hobbling across the room for a free cup of coffee, his drooping torso wobbling atop his displaced hip, and his worn, grungy, red face. A member would qualify in the back of the musty room in the church basement and then the discussion would go counterclockwise around the table.

     "All bets are off, if I pick up a drink. That's why I need to let go and let God," the drunkard would say, when it was his turn to share. "I no longer want to be the driver of the bus. I'm taking the backseat from now on and letting God do the driving. It's all about the journey, not the destination."

     He showed up at the meetings so drunk on a few occasions, that he was asked to leave. I didn't see him for a long time. His name came up on a freezing, rainy night in January at a Big Book meeting upstate. He had recently caught his son smoking pot. The boy and the father had gotten into an argument, which escalated into a physical altercation. The man was in a blackout when it happened. He accidentally killed his own son.

     He was facing manslaughter charges when he made a surprise appearance at a meeting where I happened to be in attendance. He didn't say anything about his tragic circumstances when it came time for him to speak. He said what he had always said . . . something to the effect of, "It's all about the journey, not the destination."

     And he kept repeating this to himself, as he walked out the door of the church that night. He walked for miles in the rain until he came to a bridge overlooking the Hudson River. He looked down at the shimmering, black water below him as the rain trickled down his balding head and the back of his neck, the entire time repeating what he had been muttering in the rooms of AA for years.

    He stepped off the iron precipice into the empty night, plummeting downwards, while saying to himself, "It's all about the journey, not the destination."


Oliver Lodge is an author who lives in upstate New York. He has been published in Inner Sins, Creepy Campfire Quarterly, ANON Magazine, Blood Moon Rising Magazine, Body Parts Magazine, Yellow Mama, and Ravenwood Quarterly.

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